The Cornell Fashion Collective & The Cornell Costume and Textile Collection: An Ongoing History

Blog post by Katie Williams ’20

In the early years of the CFC (then, known as the Cornell Design League), a runway was constructed out of folding tables in Willard Straight Hall Student Union.

From folding tables taped together to make a runway to a professional production and staged show, the Cornell Fashion Collective has transformed over the past 34 years. The Cornell Fashion Collective, formerly the Cornell Design League, is a student-run organization that was founded to provide members of the Cornell community with an outlet to express creativity in fashion and fashion design management. The Cornell Fashion Collective includes over 125 members representing all seven of Cornell’s undergraduate colleges.

This is my second year as a designer, and first year as the Cornell Fashion Collective’s secretary. I can truly say that I am amazed by all of the collaboration, creativity, and innovation coming from this organization. The diversity and talent of our members is one of the core elements of what makes this program exceptional. We are all so excited to present this year’s 34th annual runway show, and we hope you’ll join us on March 10th at 7 PM in Barton Hall.

Samantha’s curatorial work for the CCTC’s exhibition, 150 Years of Cornell Student Fashion, January 2015..

Over the years, the Cornell Costume and Textile Collection has acquired several designs that were created for the CFC/CDL fashion shows. These designs truly reflect the development of the Cornell Fashion Collective. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Samantha Stern, a 2017 Cornell University graduate of the Fashion Design program in the Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design. Samantha designed for the Cornell Fashion Collective shows in 2014, 2015, and 2017, and was also a research assistant in the CCTC 2013-2017. Last year Samantha generously donated a metal mesh dress to the CCTC from her senior collection, Der Stern. In our interview, Samantha discusses her design process and how her research in the Costume Collection helped her develop her senior collection.

Der Stern on the runway, March 2017.

How did your research in the Costume Collection influence your design process throughout you years at Cornell, and currently?

Working as an undergraduate research assistant in the Cornell Costume & Textile Collection was one of the most important things that I did at Cornell. It gave me the context to present my ideas, and I was able to learn through interaction with some of the most exquisite garments that I have ever seen. I was able to understand the way designs and silhouettes shift over time, and also how social movements influence fashion design. This was so important to me as a designer and really inspired my work and conceptual thinking.

CFC program, 2017.

Your Senior Collection, Der Stern, was shown at last year’s 33rd Cornell Fashion Collective show. I was amazed by all of the detail and presence each piece had on stage.  What was your inspiration behind it all?

In Der Stern I re-appropriated the yellow star that Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust in 1939, with the message that we shouldn’t be labeling anyone for part of their identity. I reincorporated the yellow star in subtle, different ways into the garments. I wanted to turn this degrading identifier into an empowering, beautiful symbolic message. The star, and the identity of the wearer, will always be there.

Stern’s donation to the CCTC from her senior collection.

The Metal Mesh Dress that was part of Der Stern is truly spectacular. What inspired you to choose metal as your textile? How was this garment conceptualized?

I have a background in jewelry making, so metal has always been a really important part of who I am as a designer. This dress is made from a Whiting and Davis brass metal mesh fabric. I dipped it into four successive layers of acid to get the final ombre effect of color. Because the acid only degrades the surface of the metal, but doesn’t degrade the integrity of the material, it reflected the message and concept behind Der Stern.

I know you may get this question a lot, but why do you think fashion is so important to the world? And what do you want to achieve on a larger societal scale with fashion design?

The reality is no matter how disconnected we think we are from fashion, we inhabit it every day. The most important thing to me as a designer is to be understanding and empathetic, to try to relate to people on a human and personal level. I’m not sure my collection will make a change in the lives of every person, but it’s my goal to use fashion to make people feel proud and empowered about who they are. I want to design with attention to the individual.

Back view of Stern’s donation to the CCTC.

The Cornell Costume and Textile Collection is a gem in the College of Human Ecology and Cornell University. Every item that has been donated to the collection reflects history on a global level, as well as the history and spirit of the FSAD program and its designers.  We look forward to another year of incredible designs and important ideas as they come down the runway Saturday night!  Samantha Stern, now a a sweaters product development assistant at Tory Burch, will be attending the show this Saturday night.  We hope you will be there, too!

Katie Williams is a sophomore majoring in Fashion Design, an undergraduate research assistant in the Cornell Costume & Textile Collection, and secretary for the Cornell Fashion Collective.  She will show her design work in the 34th annual runway show this Saturday evening!

One thought on “The Cornell Fashion Collective & The Cornell Costume and Textile Collection: An Ongoing History

  1. Wow! What a powerful article, impressive program, and amazing contribution by alumna Samantha Stern!

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